Rector’s Newsletter Article for April, 2011 (reflection on ‘just war’ tradition)

From the Rector’s desk –

I am writing this article in the second week in Lent. During my daily prayer time my thoughts turn constantly to the people of Japan as they struggle to respond to three separate and interrelated catastrophes. Even trying to deal with one earthquake, or one tsunami, or a nuclear reactor failure would be devastating by itself, but all three at once seems more tragedy than any one country could be expected to bear. And yet, even though it is difficult to watch on television, there is no lack of courage and fortitude among the people of Japan. How do people persevere when family members are suddenly washed away? Where do the workers who are sent in to cope with the nuclear reactors find it within themselves to go on when they know they are cutting their lives short by continuing to be exposed to high levels of radiation?

The news from Japan has been heartbreaking, but the work of the many selfless and courageous people who are coping with overwhelming problems is inspirational. My prayers are with the people of Japan as they experience unremitting suffering.

Heavenly Father, we commend to thy goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; especially the people of Japan; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

I also have been praying for the people of Libya. I watch television helplessly as Colonel Qaddafi becomes increasingly bellicose, delusional, and violent. The situation seems to change hourly, but as I write this, an international coalition is engaged in bombing strikes to create a no-fly zone and force a cease-fire.

As our country engages once more in the use of military force I have been reviewing the Christian teaching concerning the proper use of military force, usually called the ‘just war’ tradition. International law has replaced, and expanded upon, just war theory in governing the conduct of independent nations in their relationships with one another. But it is still very important for Christians to understand the basics of just war in order to be able to make good judgments and conduct reasonable debate, concerning our involvement in armed conflict. I offer the following as a reflection on the Christian tradition regarding how Christians have been guided in the use of appropriate military force.

Just war theory traditionally (from Cicero, Ambrose, Augustine and Aquinas) sets down seven conditions for waging war:

1. The cause must be just. (no retaliation is allowed for a personal insult, but force may be used to protect innocent life and correct a grave, public evil.)

2. Comparative justice. (the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other.)

3. War must be declared by the legitimate authority.

4. The authority must have the right intention. (just cause, not material gain or to maintain the economy.)

5. The war must have a reasonable chance of succeeding. (Arms may not be used in a futile cause.)

6. Last resort. (force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been tried.)

7. Proportionality. (benefits of waging war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms.)

It may be foolish of me to say anything about our involvement in Libya. By the time you receive this newsletter the situation may have changed dramatically. But, at this point, I think I can say that if there is convincing evidence that Qaddafi intends to commit genocidal violence against those rebelling against his regime, and we can prevent him from doing this by limiting his military power and forcing a movement toward a cease-fire, then I am in support of the United Nations resolution. On the other hand, if the number of civilian casualties is expected to be high and the likelihood for creating anarchy and chaos is very high also, then the decision does not satisfy just war conditions for a reasonable chance for success, comparative justice, and proportionality.

I pray our leaders’ intentions are right, our involvement will be short-term, and that peace will be waged even more strongly than war.

In Christ, Fr. Michael Gorchov


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